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Prior Records Topple at Christie’s Contemporary Sale

Christie’s realized $133.7 million for its Part One contemporary art sale on May 11—the highest total for any contemporary art sale. Sixty-five of 76 lots were sold, 95 percent of them within or above estimates. Thirty-five lots achieved more than $1 million, and 17 made record prices.

NEW YORK—Christie’s realized $133.7 million for its Part One contemporary art sale on May 11—the highest total for any contemporary art sale. Sixty-five of 76 lots were sold, 95 percent of them within or above estimates. Thirty-five lots achieved more than $1 million, and 17 made record prices.

In terms of sales volume, the biggest difference—relative to Sotheby’s sale—could be attributed to 13 mainly postwar classics from the collection of Barbara and Donald Jonas that raised $44.3 million (see box, page 3). Willem de Kooning’s painting Sail Cloth, 1949, fetched $13.1 million (estimate: $8/12 million) from collector Sammy Ofer after an extended bidding battle with C&M Art’s Bob Mnuchin. Larry Gagosian bought Franz Kline’s Crow Dancer, 1958, for a record $6.4 million (estimate: $4/6 million), as well as Arshile Gorky’s Composition 11, 1943, for $2.7 million (estimate: $900,000/1.2 million)—a record for a work on paper by Gorky.

West Coast fund manager Jeffrey Gundlach, a relative newcomer to auction, bought two Surrealist box constructions by Joseph Cornell; both of them more than doubled the previous high for Cornell. The higher price was a record $2.6 million (estimate: $700,000/1 million) for Untitled (Medici Princess), circa 1952.

The biggest single contribution came from a rarity in a contemporary art sale—the inclusion of a painting by Edward Hopper. Christie’s believed that Chair Car, 1965, estimated at $15/20 million, might fare better there than in an American paintings sale. However, although the work brought a record price, it fell below estimate for $14 million to Berry-Hill Galleries. Afterward the gallery’s James Hill told ARTnewsletter that the Hopper painting “would probably have made more in an American paintings sale. It’s a bargain.”

Christie’s also broke new ground with the inclusion of a photograph by Diane Arbus in a contemporary sale. Estimated at $100,000/150,000, the gelatin silver print Boy with a Straw Hat . . ., certainly seemed to benefit from the contemporary milieu, selling to Thea Westreich for $228,000.

Having an owner like François Pinault helped further. For this sale Pinault contributed a large-scale Flowers, 1965, by Andy Warhol, which sold for $7.8 million (estimate: $7/10 million) to PaceWildenstein; and a unique bronze, The Critic Sees, 1961, by Jasper Johns, which went to Gagosian for $3.9 million (estimate: $3.5/5 million)—a record for a Johns sculpture.

Other postwar works to break records: Philip Guston’s abstract The Street, 1956, from the Ruth and Harvey Kaplan collection, which brought $7.3 million (estimate: $3/4 million); Sigmar Polke’s Bavarian, 1965, which sold for $1.7 million (estimate: $900,000/1.2 million) to Jeffrey Deitch; James Rosenquist’s Be Beautiful, 1964, from the Dakis Joannou collection, which went to dealer Neal Meltzer for $1.2 million (estimate: $800,000/1.2 million); and Yayoi Kusama’s No. B, 3, 1962, which fetched $1.2 million from dealer Philippe Segalot.

Christie’s also broke several records with art from the last 10 years. Luc Tuyman’s New York dealer David Zwirner bought Sculpture, 2000, for $1.5 million (estimate: $500,000/700,000). Elizabeth Peyton’s record was pulverized when both Zwirner and Deitch were outbid for her 1996 portrait John Lennon 1964, which fetched $800,000 (estimate: $200,000/300,000). Peter Doig’s Briey (Concrete Cabin), 1994-96, had been on the market since its purchase for $160,000 by London dealer Stephen Friedman four years ago; nonetheless it tripled that price, winning $632,000.

Narrowly topping previous records (see following story) were Thomas Demand’s Calculator, 2001, which brought in $180,000 (estimate: $150,000/200,000); and Richard Prince’s painting The Wrong Joke, 1994, which fetched $800,000 (estimate: $400,000/500,000) from Arthur Solway of the James Cohan Gallery.

Of the few works that failed to sell, perhaps the most interesting was a 2002 life-size, wax-and-clothes installation of two upside-down police officers named Frank and Jamie, by Maurizio Cattelan, which Christie’s later admitted had been overpriced. The pieces had been tagged around $350,000 each when shown at Marian Goodman in 2002 but at the Christie’s sale were estimated jointly at $1.4/1.8 million. Another work that went buyerless was Cattelan’s Ostrich, 1997 (estimate: $1.2/1.6 million).

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